"According to legend," says the Nathan's Famous Web site, the Fourth of July hot dog eating contest has taken place since 1916. Spectators and the media, now including broadcast partner ESPN, descend on Coney Island each year to watch competitors shove hot dog after hot dog down their throats. For the past six years straight the winner has been Takeru Kobayashi, who, in 2006, managed to eat 53.75 hot dogs in 12 minutes.
For Nathan's, this contest has become an iconic event. Rare is the company that would create a yearly event that connects the brand with nauseating images of people - cheeks stuffed like hamsters, and their mouths overflowing with half-chewed food. But it's an opportunity to place the Nathan's brand in front of an international audience, which would be nearly impossible otherwise.
On Tuesday, March 20, the hot dog eating championship for the cool set took place at the second annual Vending Machine Challenge (VMC II), courtesy of LVHRD (that's Live Hard for those of you who absolutely need to have vowels in all of your words. They choose to exclude them for speedier spelling). For this event, competitors on teams of three raced to see who could consume the contents of a vending machine in the least amount of time. The machines excluded gum and soda, but included minis of Dewar's, one of the event sponsors. Contestants were also given bottles of Fred water (another sponsor) to help wash everything down.
LVHRD is an organization with a Web site and accompanying online magazine titled MGZN, which comes in PDF format. The format, which can be accompanied by a linked video, allows the organization to do less planning, track downloads, and test the product.
LVHRD is members only; to join, you have to be a young, creative, "willing to take chances," and interested in networking. Chapters exist in New York, which is where this event was held, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Vancouver, and New Orleans.
"The idea of LVHRD is people who are really committed to what they're working on and what they're doing, but [also] want to have a good time," says Doug Jaeger, LVHRD founder and president of thehappycorp global. Thehappycorp is a marketing and branding firm, or "a creative company," says Jaeger, so as not to "limit our pursuits." "[VMC is] ridiculous, but shows a competitive spirit."
Evidenced by footage on Gawker, there was cheering, laughing, and vomiting to go along with that competitive spirit.
Other LVHRD events include a Fashion Duel, which challenges two fashion designers to make a dress live; Mic Fight, a karaoke competition; and a challenge for architects that gives them an hour to design something from a brief. LVHRD sends texts of the events' location shortly before they take place for crowd control purposes.
Not that there really could be too much of a crowd. LVHRD keeps a tight leash on membership, preferring to focus on quality. New York membership is at 2,500; competitors in the VMC II were individuals working for The Onion; AM New York; Pocketchange, a daily e-mail for the wealthy; and the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).
"MoMA got a little sensitive about it," said Jaeger. "It challenges people's perceptions of what's acceptable and what inspired people will do. I don't know how often you'll hear people shouting for the MoMA. But those [competitors] represent a part of the MoMA that will probably change it, bring in a younger audience, and help keep it modern."
Dewar's not only sponsored this event, but is also an advertiser in MGZN, which "published" its first issue in October 2006 and, according to Jaeger, got 70,000 downloads.
"We like magazines as a format, but we find that it's not a necessary thing for the product," says Jaeger. "We're by no means reaching the most people, but we're reaching a kind of person that's attractive [to advertisers]."
So maybe this puts the image of vomiting young, creative types into a much more palatable picture.
Strange Currencies is a regular column by Tonya Garcia, PRWeek web reporter